From Resurrection to Revolution
If there is no resurrection, then our faith means nothing. But why would the disciples make up a story like this anyway? Did they want to stay in the crosshairs of Roman executioners? That seems unlikely. But let’s just chase this down for a moment. So I think just about everyone would acknowledge with a pretty good amount of certainty that there actually was a man named Jesus who lived in Israel during the first century. And that this man Jesus was arrested and executed by the Roman empire. Everyone acknowledges that part is true. It’s the resurrection part of the story where so many people walk away. This is the part of the story where the apostle Paul loses his audience with the Greek philosophers in Athens. Resurrection is hard to imagine. Resurrection is not natural—in fact, it is the opposite; resurrection is a miracle. And there are people in the world who find it hard to believe in miracles. And so they say the whole part of the story about Jesus rising from the grave is made up. It was a story put together by the disciples and other followers of Jesus, but never actually happened. They went and stole the body from the tomb and then pushed this made-up story about a resurrection.
Very recently we have come up with a new term for this kind of thing. FAKE NEWS. If Caiaphis the high priest had a twitter account he would undoubtedly be sending out a nonstop tweetstorm. Resurrection—never happened. Pontius Pilate would add his own tweets. Rome has the best executions, the very best executions. Don’t leave out Herod the great. Just heard Simon Peter had my palace wiretapped. Unbelievable.
The ones who held power at the time had every motivation in the world to shut this thing down, to refute any claim at all about this resurrection story. They had every reason in the world to strike back and spin the story at any cost that this whole thing about Jesus rising from the grave is completely made up.
Credibility of witnesses
Let’s imagine that for moment. Imagine that the whole thing is made up. That the disciples stole the body in the middle of the night and then came up with a fake news story about Jesus being resurrected. Imagine it. If you were one of the disciples, then in order for this story to have any credibility it would need witnesses—credible witnesses. This is nothing against women; it’s just stating the fact of first century culture. Women were never credible witnesses. The testimony of women was not allowed in court because the testimony of a woman was not considered reliable in those days and in that culture. So if you were with the disciples and had to make up a fake news story about Jesus rising from the dead, and you needed witnesses, how would you tell it? Well, for starters you would absolutely NOT have any of the first witnesses be women. That would shoot down your whole story right there.
But what happens? As the gospels record the story of Easter for us, the very first people to hear the announcement of the resurrection are a group of women. And the very first person to actually see Jesus alive on Easter was a woman. Someone needs to tell the disciples that their fake news story here is all wrong. Don’t tell it like that because nobody is going to believe that. Unless, of course, it wasn’t made up. Unless, of course, it actually happened that way. So that’s the way the disciples tell about it.
Here is what the apostle Paul wrote about it to the church in the city of Corinth.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
This isn’t made up. It’s not fake news. This isn’t a metaphor or an analogy. Paul is not saying that the legacy of Jesus or the teaching of Jesus simply lives on in our hearts, so to speak. No. Paul is insisting that a very real resurrection took place on that first Easter. And he is insisting that the entire gospel message hinges on this resurrection being a very real occurrence in human history.
The 2000-year conspiracy
The 2000-year conspiracy
2000 years of a conspiracy theory?
These first followers of Jesus sacrificed everything for this. They gave their lives to it. Would you do something like that for a story you knew was made up? Would you sacrifice everything for something you knew was fake news? Would you pin your entire life on a conspiracy theory?
There have been a lot of conspiracy theories throughout history. Who really killed JFK? Was the Apollo moon landing actually staged in an underground studio set? Stories like this come and go from time to time. But what about Jesus and the resurrection? Is this really just a massive cover up of a stolen corpse? A conspiracy theory? Is it really possible that such a fake news story would hold up? That it would spread and gain followers and spark a movement that reaches every continent across the globe? That this story is embraced by billions and billions of people? That the resurrection of Jesus would not go away—has been with us for over 2000 years now? Is it really possible that all of this is just one big hoax?
Some might object and say that none of this resurrection stuff can be scientifically proven. There is a scientific principle called Ockham’s Razor. It is a problem solving principle that scientists use whenever they have two competing explanations for something. Ockham’s Razor states that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” In other words, when there are several different theories to explain an event or a phenomenon, the simplest explanation is usually the right one.
So what is the simplest explanation for the resurrection of Jesus? That it’s true. That it actually happened just as the witnesses of the first century describe it. The simplest and most compelling answer is this: Jesus is alive.
From Resurrection to Revolution
What difference does this make? Why is the resurrection of Jesus so important. The apostle Paul certainly seems to think so in the passage we see here in 1 Corinthians. In fact, Paul uses a very particular term to describe the resurrected Jesus. Paul refers to the resurrected Jesus as the ‘firstfruits.’ That’s important. It means that Easter is more than just a resurrection, it is the signal of a revolution.
We have been working our way through the series talking about the meaning of the cross. We have been making the case over the past several weeks that the cross has a very direct connection to what God did in the Old Testament when he rescued his people from Egypt. And in that event, rescue was about much more than end of slavery. It was also the beginning of something brand new. God not only called his people out of bondage. He also called his people into a new covenant life. It wasn’t just a rescue. It was a revolution into something completely new. If the Exodus represents this revolution for one particular time, with one particular group of people, in one particular place; then the cross represents this same covenant revolution for all time, given for all people, in every place. The cross, just like the exodus, is not just rescue out of bondage—in this case bondage to sin. The cross is a revolution which ushers us into something brand new—a new covenant with our God.
Resurrection as firstfruits
Resurrection as firstfruits
Revolutions are meant to produce something. Revolutions are meant to have results. To accomplish something. And the revolution of the cross is no different. What happened on that Friday afternoon on the cross sparked a revolution which would indeed produce results. And the very first result of this revolution took place three days later—Easter Sunday. The resurrection of Jesus is the first result, the first product, the first revolutionary activity to come as a direct result of the cross.
This is the reason why Paul refers to the resurrection of Jesus as firstfruits. The revolution happens at the cross. The resurrection is the first result. In fact, the resurrection points us to what all the other results of this revolution should look like. The resurrection is itself a pattern for God’s revolution of this world to become his kingdom again. It is the firstfruits of many more fruits to come. What we see in the resurrection is more than the victory of Jesus over the grave—although it is certainly that. It is also a demonstration of what this revolution is meant to produce in us—the people of God. We are to live from that day forward as resurrection people.
Jesus not only rises in victory. He also rises as our co-heir. He calls us his brothers and sisters. His heavenly Father is now our heavenly Father as well. And Jesus ascends to intercede for us before the Father. Jesus, in his resurrection, produces a result in which he has conquered sin. And in conquering sin he opens the way for us to once again resume being the image-bearing humans he created us to be.
Jesus’ resurrection is a guarantee of our eventual glorious resurrection. But it also opens all kinds of mini-resurrections along the way. Forgiveness has been resurrected. Redemption has been resurrected. Justice has been resurrected. Reconciliation has been resurrected. Jesus has brought back to life our divine purpose for living.
Where does this put us? We now have a new place to stand in this world. We stand as those image-bearers who have been set free and been commissioned to carry God’s resurrection revolution into this world. We stand in this world today as resurrection people. This means that the praise and worship that comes from all creation flows through us and up to the heavenly Father. We are the image-bearers of what that worship should look like, the band-leaders, the examples out front charging the way. And it also means that we are the channels—the conduits—of God’s love for his created world flowing from God back through us and into this world.
Joining a revolution
Joining a revolution
The apostle Peter in his letter to the churches of the New Testament gives us a title.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
A royal priesthood. That’s us! “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” That’s our revolution purpose. Our mission. This is the mission given to us on Easter. To carry on this resurrection revolution. This is what the beginning of that resurrection revolution looks like for us. How do we accomplish this mission? Author N.T. Wright puts it this way in his book, The Day the Revolution Began. We are forgiven forgivers. We are justified justice-seekers. We are reconciled reconcilers. We are loved lovers.
Resurrection people = royal priesthood
When Jesus resurrected from the grave he also resurrected the shalom of God along with him. Shalom is that Hebrew word which the Bible often translates as peace. But often we have noted with many other biblical scholars that perhaps a better english world for shalom is flourish. Jesus resurrected God’s flourishing of the entire creation. This is the beginning of his revolution. And he has given us—the people of his church—a very important mission in this revolution. That we should continue this resurrection revolution by once again pursuing the flourishing of all creation as the shalom of God. That we should forgive as we are forgiven. That we should seek justice as we have been justified. That we should reconcile relationships with one another as we have been reconciled to God. That we should love others as we are loved.
That’s us. That’s the mission of our royal priesthood. That accomplishes the task Peter speaks of, to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Out of darkness and into light. Sometimes that can be a scary thing. Have you ever gone to see a movie at the theatre in the middle of the day? You know what it’s like to walk out of a dark theatre and into the sunlight? It can be blinding, overwhelming. And maybe sometimes the mission of our resurrection revolution might seem that way too. It’s blinding, overwhelming. Where do we even begin?
We have been making connections all along between the cross and the Passover exodus event. As the Israelites of the exodus left Egypt and made their way toward the new promised land, there were several occasions along the way where the people grumbled and began to suggest to one another that maybe they should turn back. That they should go back to Egypt. Back to slavery under the Pharoah. Back to darkness. The light was so overwhelming—so blinding—that turning back to darkness sometimes seemed preferable. Sometimes maybe we face that too. The mission seems so overwhelming that we don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes we feel tempted to just call it quits because it all looks like too much. Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever look at this church and wonder if the mission just feels too overwhelming? Too blinding? Where do we even start? You are not alone.
One at a time
Where do we start? Where do we begin? Easter Sunday is a good day to ask that question—to remind ourselves. If Jesus is the firstfruits of this revolution, and he leads the way and shows the pattern to this resurrection living, what does he show us? What does it look like?
Jesus meets people one at a time. Sure there are the examples in the gospels where Jesus teaches large crowds. But often the example we see in Jesus of giving forgiveness, of granting justice, of reconciling relationship, of expressing love—these things happen one person at a time.
When Jesus was teaching in Capernaum, there are four men who bring a paralyzed friend to Jesus. The men climb on the roof and make an opening and lower the paralytic down to Jesus. And Jesus forgives him. He does not direct this to the whole group—it is very personal to the one man. You are forgiven. And you are healed.
One time in the town of Jericho, Jesus calls out a tax collector named Zacchaeus to spend the day with him. By the end of that day the greedy thief gives half of his possessions to the poor, and repays 10 times to all the people he has cheated. One person at a time.
And there was this other time When Jesus was in the temple courts and the pharisees brought a woman to be stoned to death for committing an act of adultery. Jesus tells those who are ready to carry out the sentence, “let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” And they all go away. And then Jesus forgives the woman and releases her.
Over and over Jesus restores people to a place of flourishing, one person at a time.
Jesus is the firstfruits of resurrection in God’s revolution. And he shows us how to keep bearing fruit as his revolution continues. In times when the mission may seem overwhelming; in times when the church may appear to lack the energy and the resources to make any difference; be encouraged by the example of Jesus. Reconcile relationships, one person at a time. Seek justice, one person at a time. Show love, one person at a time.
On this Easter Sunday, Jesus has won a victory that sets each one of us free to pursue his flourishing shalom in this world. Jesus does this in each one of us—each person here, one person at a time. You are free to pursue God’s flourishing shalom. You are his royal priesthood. You are his special possession. You are taken out of darkness and into his wonderful light. And you are called to declare his praises.
Jesus started a revolution. Join the revolution mission. And keep the revolution growing, one person at a time.